I am very fortunate through my blog to receive product samples from some great companies. For a long time now, I haven’t done any product reviews. But lately I have gotten some very interesting requests and decided to start reviewing products again, on my terms. I get requests from a lot of companies, but I don’t accept products from all of them. I like to work with companies that fulfill certain requirements. If I know right off the bat that I wouldn’t recommend their product to my readers, because I wouldn’t use it myself, then I don’t bother.

The holidays are swiftly approaching, and it is this time of year that people are always looking for gifts to send to friends and family or new foods and ingredients to cook with for their holiday tables. So for the next few Fridays, I am going to be sharing with you some of the great products that I have had the chance to review these last few months. Maybe it will give you some holiday ideas of your own!

I have made it my personal mission to shop responsibly this holiday season. This is something I try to do as best as I can, but this year, I have stepped up the challenge to myself by making my own gifts, and buying gifts handmade by an actual person as opposed to a large company. If neither of those criteria are possible than buying gifts made on the North American continent (I have to include Canada, because we practically live there!).

Many people, including myself, bake special holiday treats to give away as gifts. I spent 2 whole days last weekend baking biscotti and other cookies (recipes coming soon!). I made sure that the exotic products (meaning not local to my area, and most times not produced in the USA) , like vanilla extract and chocolate products are Fair Trade. Fair Trade means that you are paying a higher portion of the price to the actual producers that make the product. It means producers in developing countries obtain better trading conditions and can promote sustainability. When people are given a  fair price for their own products, the quality is much higher, which means better products!

I recently received some free products from Equal Exchange a name ubiquitous with Fair Trade Products and high quality. Proving again, that you get what you pay for.  This is how it all started: “It all started with an idea: what if food could be traded in a way that is honest and fair, a way that empowers both farmers and consumers? What if trade supported family farms that use organic methods, rather than industrialized agribusinesses that rely on harmful chemicals?” Sounds good, right? Well Equal Exchange features a lot of wonderful and delicious products from coffee, to chocolate, to bananas and sugar. So if you are doing some baking this holiday season, I suggest checking out the Equal Exchange website for available products and making sure your non-local ingredients are Fair Trade. You can even buy straight from their website . Everyone deserves an honest price for the products they have worked hard to produce, don’t you think?

The next product I want to share with you was a bit of a surprise! You know how we are all about real food here, on The Leftover Queen, so when I was contacted by Lori who works for Dr. Josh Axe asking me to review a free copy of the Real Food Diet cookbook, I was skeptical. I mean, eating real food is all about no diets. But then I went to Dr. Axe’s website and started reading some of the articles and the more I read, the more I liked this guy! So I decided to review the book, so that if it looked good, I could recommend it to many of my readers who are always asking where to start when changing to a real food way of life. Well, I am happy to say that this book is a great way to bridge that gap.

Dr. Axe has a great no nonsense way of explaining why real food is not only better for your health, but can help you lose and maintain a healthy weight. In the first few pages, I was struck by his ability to simply explain and show how foods we think are healthy, like juice for example, are really fake foods. We take a nice, healthy, found in nature apple, then we mash and press it until only the juice remains, then we pasteurize it, killing off all the nutrients, then we add water, preservatives, coloring and added sugar. No wonder there are so many unhealthy people in this world when we decide that this is a health food – we are better off just eating the apple! He also shares with you his top 30 list of nutrient dense foods, a revised food pyramid, and his top 5 best real foods in several categories: veggies, fruits, beans, nut and seeds, ORGANIC meats and eggs and herbs, spices and GLUTEN FREE grains. He covers all the bases!

I think my favorite part was his five worst fake foods: refined sugar (he warns: “refined sugar is lethal when ingested by humans” but he does not advocate artificial sweeteners – there is a whole section on why those are also poison), hydrogenated oils, processed grains/white stuff, pasteurized dairy aka “scary dairy” (he advocates for raw milk products), conventional meats and eggs.

His advice for the higher cost of organic, pastured meat, dairy and eggs? “ Spend less money on something else that is a lower priority and buy organic meat!”

He also discusses kitchen equipment and advises you throw away non-stick and teflon cookware, microwaves and plastic containers.

See what I mean? I love this guy! He also rates all of his recipes according to what they are good for: quick recipes, raw food recipes, kid favorites, feeling sick, low energy/working late, post workout and inflammation or arthritis pain.

So what did I think of the recipes? I really liked most of them. My biggest complaint is that he uses a lot of protein powder in some of the recipes, which I don’t consider a real food. I also didn’t like that he uses some non-whole ingredients, like gluten free crackers or “gluten free mixes” as an ingredient. I would have liked to see more actual ingredients – he should have created his own gluten free mix for the cookbook and taught readers how to make gluten free crackers and breads on their own, using gluten free flours. Then showed us how to use those products to make or enhance meals.

My favorite part of the cookbook was all the raw food desserts. Something that I have been wanting to try my hand at for a while! Some I plan to make soon are raw carrot cake, raw pumpkin pie, raw chocolate mousse and raw cheesecake! These recipes include a lot of dried fruits, soaked nuts and raw honey but are relatively easy to make – and no baking!

So my overview for Dr. Axe’s book is that I think it is based on very sound dietary principles and has a lot of great ideas for meals, snacks, and desserts that get you started on your own real food journey!

The best thing about this post for my readers, is that I will be GIVING AWAY a copy of Dr. Josh Axe’s book, the Real Food Diet cookbook! I will also throw in a bag of Fair Trade coffee. All I want you to do is comment here and tell me why you really need this book. Are you just starting your real food journey, or are you looking for some new and fresh recipes for your real food repertoire?

How to Enter The Real Food Diet CookBook Giveaway:

Anyone is welcome to enter, provided doing so does not violate any local laws of your place of residency. International participants are welcome, but all participants must be over the age of 18.

Please remember that for your entry to count, you must leave a separate comment for every entry you make.

1) DO THIS FIRST (REQUIRED): Tell me why you really need this book. Are you just starting your real food journey, or are you looking for some new and fresh recipes for your real food repertoire?

Optional ways to get more entries:

2) Blog about this giveaway describing why you want to win the book, and link your post to this giveaway. (1 extra entry)

3) Subscribe to The Leftover Queen RSS feed. (1 extra entry)

4) Enter your email address to Subscribe to Daily Emails. (1 extra entry)

5) Tweet and Tell your friends to sign up for @leftoverqueen Daily Emails or RSS feeds. (1 extra entry)

6) Fan The Leftover Queen on Facebook. (1 extra entry)

7) Follow The Leftover Queen on Twitter and tweet @leftoverqueen with a link to the giveaway. (1 extra entry)

If you are already a fan of The Leftover Queen and have done all or some of the above, and wish to enter the contest just write that you already subscribe to the newsletter, facebook page or RSS feed, by email, etc. Make sure to leave a separate comment for every entry.

Why Enter?

1) Because it is free

2) There are tons of awesome recipes and photos for each recipe in the book

3) Who couldn’t use a cookbook with real food recipes! Maybe you have a friend or family member who might like this book, even if you don’t and this is the season of giving, is it not?

The winner will be announced on this post Monday, December 6th 2010. The winner will be drawn at random and contacted on December 6th. The winner has until Wednesday, December 8th 2010, by 10 AM, EST to respond before another winner is chosen.

If you would like to purchase a copy of the book for yourself, or for someone else (they make great gifts), you can use this link.